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How I Became a Professional Surf Photographer

Professional surf photographer Camila Neves shoots for Surfline, World Surf League and Surfer Magazine. She describes how heartbreak led to a career in the waves and how she almost died on the job.

I had a surfer boyfriend and started photographing surfing as a hobby. In 2012, we parted ways and I went through a very difficult time. I decided to get out of Brazil and a close friend suggested going to Mexico.

Without any plans, I boarded that flight to Mexico. My only mission was to leave my city in Brazil. I needed a change of scenery and to begin the process of healing myself.

Shooting waves had always given me a feeling of happiness and direction. But when I arrived in Mexico, average surf was no longer bringing me the joy or happiness like once did, only more dark memories of my past.

Then, a large swell headed straight for Mexico. I will never forget that moment, it was the first time I saw “real” waves in my life. It was an inexplicable emotion when I realized that I was shooting with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. That was the moment I realized this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

That day I took an image of the professional big wave surfer Greg Long and even now, it’s one of my favorite photos that I have captured. This photo opened doors for me in the professional market.

I think the key to the perfect shot is to try different angles, lighting, background, foreground and to keep an open mind. Train your eyes to find something different. For me, a perfect picture is when you create composition with the elements of the place you’re in and the light of that moment.

You can have the latest professional camera and lenses, but if you’re not connected with yourself, and inspired on that day, you won’t be able to capture that image that touches the soul of people. At the end of 2012, I had all my equipment stolen in Hawaii. A friend lend me a basic Canon 7D and a 100-400mm lens. When you need equipment, you can shoot with anything.

“When shooting big waves, every wave that I view through my lens reminds me of the ocean’s awesome power and how vulnerable we are, as humans, in this untamed arena.”Camila Neves

I am constantly learning every day how to shoot waves. Large waves are my passion and my focus, constantly reminding me how extremely important it is to stay in sync with the wonder that is the ocean. I’m being reminded all the time of how important it is to be more and more humble. To connect with people and situations.

When shooting big waves, every wave that I view through my lens reminds me of the ocean’s awesome power and how vulnerable we are, as humans, in this untamed arena. In 2013, I almost died in a boating accident in Tahiti, shooting waves that were 20–25 feet high.

A wave hit the reef at an unexpected direction that lifted the boat that I was in, nearly capsizing. I damaged my kidney resulting in a hemorrhage. I also fractured three vertebrae in my lower back. If my fractured vertebrae had moved another 2.8 millimeters I would have damaged my spinal cord and become a paraplegic.

The whole thing was caught on camera. You can watch it below.

Nature is unpredictable and working amongst it’s awesome power can be an extremely high risk. The reward is not a tangible one, but one of spiritual gratitude.

Right now, I’m in the planning stage of designing and publishing a hardcover book. You can find me in Mexico shooting that waves that I’ve fallen in love with. Follow me on Instagram @cacaneves and check out my online portfolio camila-neves.format.com.

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